VMWare server good long term solution ?

Posted on 2008-11-14
Last Modified: 2012-05-05
We have been recently testing vmware , and it almost seems too good to be true.  We easily convert physical machines to virtual machines and play them on the network and no one can tell the difference, I am just waiting for something bad to happen as this just seems way too easy and awesome.  

We are about to convert all of our physical servers to virtual machines.   Then we plan to play the virtual machines on vmware server, both are free products, is there any issues I could face, like images stop working after so long ? ?? I just can't believe something that is free , so easy, wont have any draw backs or issues I could run into over a long period of time, so my basic question is , is this a good long term solution.

Question by:level9tech
    LVL 1

    Expert Comment

    I think the disadvantage of VMWare Server is that you can't cluster anything so when your server crashes you don't have any machine up and running.

    When you use VM Ware ESX with 2 servers this is no problem as you can move around the machines any time you want and it does it automaticcaly when you got performance issues ore something like that.

    THe disadvantage of ESX againt Server is the price, you need shared storage like iSCSI or a MSA/EVA soluttion and you need 2 machines and esx licenses.

    If the machines that are running on your vmware server aren't that important you can keep the edition you are using at this moment because it is free, but when you are running it in a business environment and you need a continious uptime i should choose the cluster esx solution.

    Author Comment

    We do need continous up time, but if we are backing the entire virtual machines up every day, and the physical server were to die, can't we just play the backup virtual machines on another box ?
    LVL 2

    Expert Comment

    My short answer to your question is "Yes, depending".  
    You need to ask yourself a few questions:
    The first question is, what is your backup and recovery strategy?  Many small shops back up their VM's the traditional way using client agents installed in the VM (such as ARCserve's Windows Client Agent).  This is fine, as far as it goes.  It will back up the VM just like you would a physical box - so if the VM fails you wouild need to create a new VM, install Windows server, patch it, configure it, install the backup agent, and restore the system and data.  Just as with a physical box, this can be very time consuming, and if not done properly can lead to problems down the road (this is true for restoring system state on a physical box too!).
    The drawback to this approach is that it does not back up the VM itself.  It does not back up the virtual disk files, etc.  It does not provide any redundancy, and recovery times can be very long.
    The second question has to do with scalability and redundancy.  How many VM's will you have? How many hosts will you need to support them?  Are these mission critical VM's, or can they be down for a day or two while you recover them?  Do you need the ability to fail the VM over to another host with no downtime?
    An option that begins to answer some of these questions is the ESX or ESXi product.  ESXi is more limited to begin with, but is free.  The full ESX product does carry a price tag, but offers much more functionality and "enterprise" functionality.
    With either ESX or ESXi, you can scale to many more VM's on a single host, so if you have a lot of VM's you need less hardware (equals cost savings).  The performance of the VM's improves, due to lower host overhead.  In addition, you can add options such as VMotion,. resource managment, and high availability to begin to ensure that the VM's keep running even if a host goes down, or if you get into a resource constrained situation (not enough processor or RAM availability).
    With ESX or ESXi, you also have addtional options (through VMware and/or third party vendors) for better backup strategies.  This includes backing up the VM itself, not just the OS running on the VM.
    With ESX or ESXi, you can add the VirtualCenter (required for some of the options mentioned above) to give you additional scalability and manageability - VM templates, that allow you to deploy a fully configured VM within minutes (ten minutes to deploy a fully patched Windows server!!!!), better snapshot management, more troubleshooting tools, logging, security, the list goes on and on...
    Of course, to add all these features you are moving from a free platform one that will cost money.  However, if these are the features that you need, you are going to pay for them.
    Bottom Line:  Yes, the free VMware Server can be stable, and work fine for a few VM's.  I would never stake running my entire business on it though (although admittedly there are likely those that would disagree with me!).  If you are moving to virtualization as an IT strategy, at least try ESXi.  The cost is the same, but the benefits of lower overhead, and better scalability are tremendous.
    VMware Server is fine for non-critical services, test environments, etc.  It is not a "mission critical" solution.
    LVL 8

    Accepted Solution


    VMware's server virtualization products are mature products for SMB- and Enterprise-class environments. There are different tiers when it comes to choosing which solution works best for your environment.

    VMware Server 2 (and 1.0.x versions) - installed on a Windows or Linux OS
    - Free virtualization platform to develop and test servers and even run in production for small businesses
    - Provides single snapshot per VM
    - Managed through a Web UI either locally or remotely
    - Supports all major OS (All Windows platform - version 2 support more - Sun Solaris, and many Linux distributions)
    - Managed by VirtualCenter* (* = need to pay for it though)
    - Does not come with a good backup strategy (image level backups)
    - Requires to run as an app on top of another OS
    -- For Windows - frequent patches = frequent downtime (scheduled downtime for all VMs while host reboots after patching, Linux isn't as frequent, so downtime is few and far between, therefore a better solution - but there's a better solution that's also free!)
    - If hosts goes down, so do the VMs (Windows host BSODs, Server hardware failure) - no auto-failover

    ESXi (32MB) or ESX 3.5 (2GB) free version - Hypervisor
    - Same as VMware Server
    - Multiple snapshots per VM
    - It's a hypervisor - does not run on top of another OS = more resources for VMs
    - Optimized for hosting VMs, suited for test/dev and production environment (small shops)
    - Does not come with a good backup strategy (image level backups)
    - Limited high availability and disaster recovery features out of the box

    Virtual Infrastructure - Foundation, Standard, Enterprise (this costs $$$$, so I recommend choosing an Acceleration Kit that fits your budget and your needs)
    - The platform of choice for many SMBs and Enterprise businesses
    - Comes with additional licenses
    - Resilient and reliable HA and DR features - HA, DRS, VMotion, Storage VMotion, VCB
    - Scalability > Multiple ESX servers in a cluster
    - $$$$ - choose an acceleration kit for bundling feature
    - To enable additional features (HA, DRS, VMotion, etc) requires shared storage (NFS, iSCSI/Fibre Channel SAN)
    - Requires compatible CPUs across all ESX servers for HA, DRS, VMotion, etc
    - Requires additional backup licenses or 3rd party software for easier image level and file level backups

    So which solution is right for you?

    You can certainly create an iSCSI SAN using VSAs (virtual SAN appliances) like Xtravirt Virtual SAN (free), OpenFiler (free), and LeftHand networks (pay), Datacore SANMelody (pay) to use your Direct Attached Storage on your ESX servers as an iSCSI storage to present to your VMs. This can enable you to have HA and DR strategies in place in case your ESX server, your bulding, your city suffers from a natural (or manmade) disaster, granted you have another site for backup.

    To keep costs low, I recommend starting out with ESXi or ESX 3.5 (free versions) and go from there. You can then build a case for bringing in one of flavor of the Acceleration Kits

    See for cost breakdown
    Allso check out;jsessionid=96F9C00ED419AFDB0910A7EDB8AE56CE?Action=DisplayPage&Env=BASE&Locale=en_US&SiteID=vmware&id=ProductDetailsPage&productID=83617500 for the latest pricing

    If you need help with setup, VMware has documentation that will help you (and you can join their online community or just use Experts-Exchange when you hit a road block)

    For your VMs, make sure the server you're electing to be your VM host has the resources (CPU, RAM, HDD, NICs) to support your VMs. I can't stress enough how important this is in having a successful server virtualization project. In order for you to determine how much resources you need, look at the type of servers (Exchange, SQL, DNS, DHCP, etc) you're going to run on this host. Review their requirements and spec out your host accordingly.

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